Ulysses S. Grant was a prominent United States Army general during the American Civil War and Commanding General at the conclusion of that war. He was elected as the 18th President of the United States in 1868, serving from 1869 to 1877. As Commanding General, Grant worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. After Lincoln's assassination, Grant's assignment in implementing Reconstruction often put him at odds with President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor. Twice elected president, Grant led the Republicans in their effort to remove the vestiges of Confederate nationalism and slavery, protect African-American citizenship, and support economic prosperity. Grant's presidency has often been criticized for its scandals and for his failure to alleviate the economic depression following the Panic of 1873, but modern scholarship regards him as a president who performed a difficult job with some merit, and took strong action on civil rights for African Americans.
Grant graduated in 1843 from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Mexican–American War. After the war, he married Julia Dent in 1848, and together they had four children. Grant retired from the Army in 1854 and struggled financially in civilian life. When the Civil War began in 1861, he rejoined the U.S. Army and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1862, Grant took control of Kentucky and most of Tennessee, and led Union forces to victory in the Battle of Shiloh, earning a reputation as an aggressive commander. In July 1863, after a series of coordinated battles, Grant defeated Confederate armies and seized Vicksburg, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River and dividing the Confederacy in two. After Grant's victories in the Chattanooga Campaign, Lincoln promoted him to lieutenant general and Commanding General of the Army in March 1864. Grant confronted Robert E. Lee in a series of bloody battles, trapping Lee's army in their defense of Richmond. Grant coordinated a series of devastating campaigns in other theaters, as well. In April 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, effectively ending the war. Historians have hailed Grant's military genius, and his strategies are featured in military history textbooks, but a minority contend that he won by brute force rather than superior strategy.
With the close of the Civil War, Grant led the army's supervision of Reconstruction in the former Confederate states. Elected president in 1868, he stabilized the nation during that turbulent period, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan, briefly used the military to enforce laws in the south and created the Department of Justice while bolstering the Republican Party in the South. Grant also employed the Army to supervise new elections in the South with universal male suffrage. When Blacks in the South came under violent attack from whites, Grant tried to protect them by signing three civil rights acts into law. In 1871, Grant created the first Civil Service Commission, to appease reformers. The Democrats and Liberal Republicans united behind Grant's opponent in the presidential election of 1872, but Grant was reelected by a strong margin. In his second term, the Republican coalitions in the South splintered and were defeated as a faction of white Southern "Redeemers" regained control of Southern state governments using violence, voter fraud, and racist appeal. Although personally regarded as honest, Grant faced charges of corruption in his administration more than any 19th Century president. Grant's Peace Policy with Native Americans was a bold departure, but historians agree that, as with Reconstruction, it ended in failure.
In foreign policy, Grant sought to increase trade and influence while remaining at peace with the world. With Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, he successfully resolved the Alabama claims through the Treaty of Washington with Great Britain. Grant and Fish negotiated a peaceful resolution with Spain over the Virginius Affair. Congress rejected Grant's initiative to annex the Dominican Republic, creating a rift among Republicans. His administration implemented a gold standard and sought to strengthen the dollar. Grant's immediate response to the Panic of 1873 failed to halt a severe industrial depression that produced high unemployment, deflation, and bankruptcies. When Grant left office in 1877, he embarked on a two-year world tour that captured favorable global attention for him and the United States.
In 1880, Grant was unsuccessful in obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for a third term. Facing severe investment reversals and dying of throat cancer, he wrote his memoirs, which proved to be a major critical and financial success. His death in 1885 prompted an outpouring in support of national unity. Historical assessments of Grant's legacy have varied considerably over the years. His popular reputation focuses on his drinking, which historians agree did not adversely affect his military campaigns. Early historical evaluations were mostly negative about Grant's presidency. Scholars continue to rank his presidency below the average, but modern appreciation for his support for civil rights has helped improve his standing.